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Pentecost. Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay
Pentecost Sermon, Year C
Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17
Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA
June 19, 2019

The great St. Paul, surprising Apostle to the Gentiles, once confessed, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Thanks to the Holy Spirit, his faith and understanding evolved, deepened and grew as he journeyed through life – as it intends to do during all of our lives.

As I turned to the Holy Spirit in prayer this week, I asked for help with today’s message. That’s always a good place to begin, and after some time, this particular passage came to my mind and just wouldn’t go away. It just seemed so appropriate in light of our reading on the Tower of Babel, as well as our having nine of our youth recognized as adults though the ritual of confirmation, and one adult choosing to affirm their faith this day as well. You’ve probably heard it before at a wedding or other community focused worship event, as Paul seeks to address the importance of the faith, hope and love we all share as Christians.

As I said, this quote came to my mind as I reflected on the Tower of Babel. I was fascinated by this story as a child with its dynamic images of a tall tower reaching towards heaven. I thought it was so cool. And then, we get to hear of punishment…or at least, that what it sounded like to me. In my juvenile mind, I saw the tower come crashing down in God’s anger with fire and brimstone or perhaps a mighty wind – much like I might have torn down my Lego towers while playing. I pictured this destruction even though scripture tells us no such thing. Scripture reveals that the tower survived unfinished, and the people were only scattered throughout the earth, never destroyed or abandoned. This was just as God intended when Adam and Eve were told to go forth and multiply and inhabit all the earth. The people of Babel would spread over time with new languages and eventually dynamic, beautiful new cultures. Each of these cultures conribute to a remarkable tapestry that makes our world a better place and helps glorify God. My childhood brain could certainly understand consequences for wrong behavior…but the wideness of grace and mercy? Apparently, I wasn’t quite ready to understand that.

This sacred story often shared even in preschools is at its depths no kid’s story. It is a mythic tale, and by that I don’t mean false, but a teaching story rooted in the past and revealing ultimate truths about ancient peoples, ourselves, and the sacred activity of God woven through it all. If you listened closely, you heard that the people of God, yet once again, have sought to be like God. They are chasing after the power, wealth and glory of this world and losing touch with who they were meant to become in the process. Much like Adam and Eve, they’ve reached for that unattainable fruit, and now, they face separation from God and one another. That’s always the way when we do such things, even today.

Like Adam and Eve, these people were sent out into the world, but just as Adam and Eve wouldn’t leave Eden without God’s grace and a plan for restoration, neither will the people of Babel. Adam and Eve would be provided clothing, protection and family. The people of the tower will receive something even better. God will make eternal good come from bad. Among all these new peoples, one people would be set apart. Remember the “children of Abraham?” Abraham would be given a trust in God that would rush and wind its way down through a very troubled, often sinful family line. This was often a family that fought amongst themselves, who were selfish and lazy, or sometimes meanspirited and lacking faith. They struggled with faith and often sinned. Yet, they spread out into the world and became what we know as the people of Israel. The Jewish people, a small, enslaved and often conquered people, would be used to fulfill promises delivered by the prophets. Through the Jewish people, all nations would become blessed. It was the Jewish people who lead us to Jesus, and some from this people will number among his first followers. Today, our confirmands claim their share in that sacred inheritance.

Yes soon, moments from now, our confirmands will be welcomed as adults in the church. They have been offered a choice to affirm the promises of their baptism…to seek to love Jesus by following his commands. Yet as they have hopefully learned (and all we Christians should understand), we can topple as easy as the people on that tower of Babel. We are they, and they are us…flawed, sinful, never able to be perfect on our own…people. We are just people. And so as we set off in the world with good intentions, Jesus offers us hope, help and a way forward. An Advocate was sent to live with us and in us. It came to us through the promises of our Baptism whether we feel it or not; understand it or not. For, it is God’s promise to us!

Now, as a child (even into my young adult years), I understood this wrongly. Yes, people promise (or have sponsors promise on their behalf when too young to do so themselves) to seek to follow Christ. Publicly proclaiming and affirming our faith is a great and appropriate thing to do each and every day, but if we are honest, we know our promises will break now and again. Fortunately, baptism is not ultimately about us. It is more about God’s reaching out to us. And so daily through our lives, the Holy Spirit…the One who came upon us at our baptism…who claimed us as God’s own at our baptism…who set us apart to bless nations…that very same Spirit will seek to affirm and fulfill a godly, perfect promise again, and again and again…even when we goof up… even when we don’t deserve it. With that Spirit’s first coming to dwell in the hearts of the Apostles, we were given a sign to help us believe. Recall, “All of [the disciples] were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:4).” What had seemed a curse for the people of Babel had now become blessing in the hands of our God…a gift meant to unify and call people of all nations home. They would be called through the voices of ordinary people.

Yes, it is true that through the ages we have inherited a sometimes fractured, imperfect faith skewed by human sin, but the Spirit makes even faith much smaller than a mustard seed “count,” or in other words have a powerful affect. Faith can impact us and transform our life. Our shared faith has made it to us through torture and persecution, corrupt church government and fallen preachers, and even our ancestors (sinner-saints all; people just like us). it couldn’t be stopped. It has come to rest upon us all these centuries later…lives inside us. Yet while the Spirit invites us to faith, it never forces. It challenges us each day to say publicly we believe (and also live like it too). God’s deep desire is to have all nations and peoples praise him in those many languages. And today on Pentecost, we are reminded that we have been chosen to become part of God’s story, the one who spoke us into being with a purpose.

When I was seeking to become a police officer, I had to take a complete physical exam testing both mind and body. I was younger back then, and I had no glasses. As I went through the eye test looking through a scope to read those small, random, letters in a line, they grew smaller and smaller. “What do you see know?” the technician asked over and over and over again. As it went on and on, I became confident that I had failed the test, and I finaly gave up. I was defeated, and I assumed my dreams were dashed. And so, I finally admitted that I could no longer make any letters out. It was only then the technician laughed and said, “No worries. You have excellent vission. I was just seeing how far we could go.” I share this story with you, because I had already passed the test without even knowing it.

As you, our confirmation candidates, come to profess your faith publicly today, you might not see clearly where your future lies. You might not fully understand how God intends to use you or has been using you already. You might even fear you are not up to the test before you or have doubts or struggle with even the idea of faith…so might we all admit such things at times if we are adult about it…but fortunately that’s not the key to this day or any of our days with Jesus. Jesus has passed the test for us. We need not worry, only believe.

Yes, we are already declared acceptable to God and deeply loved through this gift of our faith and baptism. As the head of our Synod’s Youth Council rightly proclaimed yesterday before the assembled “wiser” adults, youth are not the future of the church, they are already the church – now and into the future. With the Spirit’s presence in your lives (in all of our lives), I trust that even greater things are yet to come just as Jesus promised. I urge you to seek out the Spirit, and try to hold onto it. For when you have faith, you are in for one amazing ride. Amen.

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Celebrate. Remember. Thank.

Image by ktphotography from Pixabay

I’ve been involved with a lot of celebrations of late: family graduations from junior high, high school and college; a niece, nephew and godchild experiencing first communion or confirmation; retirement and award ceremonies; promotions and other work transitions of friends and associates; as well as planning for the ubiquitous June wedding. I even have my own anniversary coming up! There’s a lot going on, much of it good.

Recalling such times of blessing can help anchor us for the slow or even bad times which most certainly will come in a fallen world. Therefore, God told the Israelites over and over again using varied words, “Remember…Remember what I have done for you…Remember that I love you…Remember that I have chosen you to be part of my story and ultimate victory.” When things are seemingly at their worst, one can consider the love of God active in the past and find encouragement. That same God is also God of our present. God won’t let us go and will love and care for us always. That’s God’s promise.

Yes, God is always doing something new, but God’s love for us remains steadfast. It never changes. Nothing can separate us from such love. It is always at work for our welfare – seen, felt or not. The God who blessed us in the past, blesses us now in ways that will prove to sustain and lead us through the bad times toward a future filled with hope. God loves us so much that even our bad times will eventually be understood as somehow leading us toward our ultimate good and proof of that love.

As we race through our filled spring and summer calendars, let’s try to intentionally take stock of the good that surrounds us – both big and small things. Counting these blessings may be just what helps most when we face any difficult times ahead. Praise God, for it “is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes” (Deuteronomy 10:21).

Originally published in the June 2019 newsletter of Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA.

© 2019 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Rejoice & Sing

The Hub, May 8, 2019

The season of Easter is the high point of the Christian church year, lasting not just one day but a fabulous fifty! As the ELCA notes, “The season is an extended feast wherein the paschal candle is lit at every service as a sign of the risen Christ.” Along with the spring flowers and other festive colors, we will hear and sing many musical pieces. Where would we be without beautiful sounds to go along with the sights of Easter? 

Christ Lutheran’s Palm Sunday Cantata, 2019

“This is the Feast,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and so many other canticles and hymns bring back memories of the past and joy in our present. Yet, the music doesn’t just help set a mood for our worship. Martin Luther believed it had a holy purpose saying, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to [us] that [we] should proclaim the Word of God through Music.”

Throughout Lent, our choirs and bell choirs of all ages worked diligently under the leadership of Tim Wilson, our Music Director, and Susan Morin, our Organist, to prepare a joyful noise with a meaningful paschal message. From the Palm Sunday Cantata, Holy Week, and Easter through Pentecost, our worship experience is enriched by our dynamic music ministry.

Thanks to one and all who help our congregation rejoice and sing. You make a loving difference as your music stirs our hearts while engaging our minds and spirits as well.

Originally published in The Hub, a weekly email of Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA.

© 2019 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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A Paschal People

Christ Lutheran’s font ready for an Easter baptism (2019).

As I write this, we have just entered the Church’s most special time of celebration. (Yes, even more special than Christmas.) We are celebrating the Three Days (also called the Triduum). During this time, we remember Jesus giving us a new command to love one another, but also to share in the Lord’s love for us, Holy Communion. “Do this in remembrance of me.” We then recall Christ’s suffering for our sake. On Good Friday, Jesus gave his life so that we might live with him forever. Christians argue about the mechanics of this mystery, but somehow, someway through the love of God, those who trust in Jesus will share in eternal, abundant life. And finally, we celebrate Easter (traditionally called Pascha) with shouts, “Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!” We welcome the day and one another in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

But is that really, finally it? No! The Church celebrates the gifts of Easter for fifty days. During the Season of Easter, we will hear tales of the early Church and promises of Christ coming again. The Easter cycle concludes with Pentecost, the day we remember the Holy Spirit descending upon the first people who will become “Church.” Empowered by that same Spirit through our faith and baptism, we share in all the gifts of being Church together with them and all those saints who will come after us.

And even then, it isn’t over. Each Sunday is meant to be a little Easter. We welcome new members to Christ’s family through baptism. We regularly recall and share in the Lord’s Supper. We remember the sacred stories of God’s love for us and especially the Risen Christ. We are a Paschal People called to gather so that we can be sent out to point others to the love of God; the love made most clear through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection for our sake.

In our life together, Jesus proclaims we are to be his body. People will see Jesus through our shared fellowship, worship and service as we love one another. And as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we might just catch a glimpse of the Risen Christ on our way. The promises of scripture might even begin to burn just a bit more warmly within us, perhaps with greater clarity and certainty, as we walk this road together.

Dear Church, I pray we experience a blessed Easter, a life with Christ which lasts forever in joy.

“Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117)

Originally published in the May 2019 newsletter of Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2019 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Among the Ashes

The Hub, April 17, 2019

Image (c) Mirror.com.uk find their original article here.

Perhaps like many of you, I watched the burning of Notre Dame with great sadness. Whether we have been there or not, it remains an enduring part of our shared cultural heritage. Yet, we also should ponder signs of hope among the ashes: in the bravery of the firefighters striving successfully to preserve the main structure; in the crowds gathered kneeling, praying and singing together; and among the ruins, finding a cross preserved and shining forth from the ashes.

Although we do not know the cause of the fire yet, people are already coming forward to fund the rebuilding of this cathedral. The heart of the building, its faith community (and their connection to the communion of saints reaching far beyond Paris), lives on. This all reminds me of a sacred promise, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

This is a statement of what was, what is and what yet shall be through the power of the ancient events of Holy Week and the first Easter. It’s a power alive and at work in our community and in all who believe. Our world needs signs of Christ’s light amidst so much ash and decay. Through our fellowship, service and worship, God is doing something new. Jesus, who shared our sorrows, will share his risen joy.

Please be with us, in prayer and in person as you are able, this Holy Week and beyond. For our decaying world needs to find such signs of hope. People need to see that Christ is truly risen and alive in us, and its likely we need to be encouraged in our faith, hope and love as well. For dust we are, and unto dust we shall return, but we remain in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ Lutheran’s (Fredericksburg, VA) worship schedule for the Triddum can be found at:
http://www.christ-lutheran-church.org/

Originally published in The Hub, a weekly email of Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA.

© 2019 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Hidden Behind the Palms: The Roots of Palm Sunday

The Hub, April 10, 2019


Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

Palm Sunday, the start of our Holy Week experience, is upon us. Most of us should recall the story, but do you know the ancient roots hidden behind behind the palms?

For many centuries, the palm had served as a symbol of victory in the Near East and Greco-Roman world. This especially became so for the Jewish people as they remembered their liberation from Egypt by God’s power.

Recalling the Exodus at Passover and during Sukkot (the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles each fall), palms helped the people of Israel remember their wondering ancestors who often had to build hasty tents as their dwelling place and eat quick meals. Even the Ark of the Covenant, holding the tablets given to Moses and serving as the “mercy seat” of the Lord, was housed in such a tent (also called a booth or tabernacle).

For the people of Israel, the palm became a symbol of freedom and nationalism. They were a people set apart by God, and in Jesus’ day, they fully anticipated their eventual liberation from the occupying army of the Roman Empire. Could Jesus be the one to accomplish it?

As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, he was celebrated as a prophet known for authentic teaching and miraculous works. He came into Jerusalem on a donkey much as Solomon did to be coronated. It was also as Zechariah foretold, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

And so, Jesus was met with waving palms and shouts of hosanna, a term of adulation and praise, but it also at its root means, “Save us!” This is as in Psalm 118, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord.” Jesus would prove a savior, but what kind?

This Holy Week, I invite us all to contemplate and encounter once again his sacred story. Join us as we consider what Jesus’ entry into our lives truly means.

Originally published in The Hub, a weekly email of Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA.

© 2019 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Radiating Love

The Hub, April 3, 2019

Volunteers of our Feed the Children Program radiate love, smiles and blessing through our weekly student food assistance program.

As noted in the very name of [Christ Lutheran’s The Hub] weekly email, Christ Lutheran was meant to serve from the center of our community but have a far reach. Just this week, I went into the interior of our building to find four faithful people filling plastic bags with food. Weekly, volunteer teams of our congregation including youth gather to feed hungry students in our region through our Feed the Children Program. Food is collected earlier and then lovingly packed into 150 sacks, each sack representing a heart like our own with a future filled with hope. Thanks to these simple efforts, one less child will go hungry over a weekend away from school meals and other resources. You might have heard that according to government statistics, one in seven Virginia children live in families that struggle with food insecurity. That means those families don’t regularly have enough food to eat. (This is a bit better than the one in six national statistic, but it still seems dreadful.) Many hands make light work, and so I was invited to help. The task is quick and easy, and it proves a great time to share our own stories and smiles. Within a very short time, the bags were packed and readied for delivery to the local school system. From that little room in the depths of our building where only a handful of believers gathered, I found Christ reaching out into the community. It wasn’t just food but love, smiles and blessing radiating to people and places far beyond our walls.

Originally published in The Hub, a weekly email of Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA.

© 2019 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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